by John A. Ward
My simulated city was going well until the corpses started turning up. The most recent was on Friday evening, when we have the seafood buffet in the dining room. She was a twenty-something exotic dancer who worked as a neurosurgeon on weekends. She was doing research on brain transplants. I would have preferred it if her weekday job were technical and her avocation was entertainment, but that was seldom the mix in the City of Hair. Chief Inspector O'Reilly was gathering evidence when I arrived on the scene.
"What seems to be the problem, Chief?" I asked.
"Looks like she was impaled on a marlin spike while she was swimming at the beach," he answered. "We won't know for sure until the autopsy."
"You mean a rope-working tool?"
"No, the nose spike of a blue marlin. You know, the game fish."
"So you think this one is a fishing accident?"
"Not likely, it was a stuffed marlin, someone's fishing trophy." The Chief Inspector led me to the body.
"Any idea why she showed up here at the casino?" I asked, checking the carpet for stains. There's a lot of history in this floor, and body fluids. I probably should have it replaced. He had the area around the body sealed off with yellow tape that said "Crime Scene Do Not Enter" in Times Old Gothic. Otherwise, the tuxedoes and evening gowns were crowded around the tables as usual.
"Well, we're not far from the beach. I figure she got stabbed in the water and staggered this far, looking for help," the inspector said as he as he removed a piece of spinach from between her teeth and placed it in an evidence envelope.
"Why would the killer use a stuffed fish?"
"It would have made it easier for him to sneak up on her in the water. Didn't you have a stuffed marlin over the bar?"
"Why do you think the killer was a man?" I deflected his question until I could check with security and find out if anyone had reported a missing marlin overnight.
"Why do you think that I think it was a man?" The inspector didn't miss much, except for being easily distracted, he was an excellent detective.
"Because you said, 'him.'"
He smirked, "Because women typically use poison. They like their deaths to be neat."
"And men use fish?"
"No, men use violence. The fish was used to inflict penetrating trauma."
The victim was wearing a turquoise wet suit. Her eyes were open. Her hands clutched the spike of the big fish protruding from her abdomen.
"Do you know her?" he asked.
"Yeah, I made her avatar. She's been in the city about three months. The curious thing is, she has a dolphin tattoo on her back, in the lumbar region."
"How do you know?"
"I make everything, their bodies, their clothes. I've made probably eighty percent of the inhabitants of the city."
"You ever make any others with tattoos?" It was like something clicked in the inspector's head, but I knew it was just the steel plate in his skull sliding against the cranial bones when he swiveled his neck.
"Yeah, lots of them, maybe a half dozen dolphins. Why do you ask?"
"Because all of the victims had tattoos."
"Some, but all were different kinds of aquatic creatures."
"Were they stabbed with fish, too?"
"One was bludgeoned with a frozen mackerel, but most of them were strangled by cephalopods."
"You mean octopi?"
"Yes, and squids. Tentacles seem to be very popular around here. Can you give me a list of everyone who has a fish or sea mammal tattoo?"
"I keep files of all the descriptions, so that I can replace lost avatars and to serve as templates for new ones. It will take some time, but, yes, it can be done. Why do you want that?"
"There's a pattern here. I think the next victim may be one of those on the list."
"Do you want shellfish and tentacle beasts, too?"
"Especially the tentacle beasts. Most of the victims have had tentacle tattoos. I think our killer may have a sucker fetish."
"Makes sense, anything else?"
"Yes, be careful out there, especially around water." The inspector's eyes turned toward the direction where the surf would have been breaking over the sandbar at sunset, if he had a good sense of direction. "Oh, and one more thing, check the toilet before you sit down. If you see anything wiggling, give me a call."
"Has the killer come up through the plumbing?"
"More than once. I don't want to talk about it. It wasn't pretty."
John A. Ward was born on Staten Island, attended Wagner College in the early 60's, sold his first poem to Leatherneck magazine, and became a scientist. He is now in San Antonio running, writing and living with his dance partner. He has published in Doorknobs & Bodypaint, Clockwise Cat, Apollo's Lyre, Ascent Aspirations, Toasted Cheese, Green Tricycle, Alighted Ezine, Lit Bits, Cenotaph Pocket Edition, The San Antonio Express-News, Antithesis Common, Wild Child, Holy Cuspidor, Idlewheel, Cautionary Tale, Sentence, Sun Poetic Times, Byline, Quirk, ken*again, R-KV-R-Y, The Smoking Poet, Long Story Short and Rose & Thorn. Links to his work can be found at Danc Fool.